The National Catholic Review

In case you missed it, here is the video of Newt Gingrich lashing out at CNN newsman John King during the most recent and final Republican debate before today’s South Carolina primary.

King was giving Gingrich the opportunity to react to an interview his second ex-wife, Marianne, gave to ABC news in which she claimed that the former Speaker of the House and moral crusader revealed his affair with a much younger aide and suggested the couple explore an open marriage.

Gingrich’s rage at the question, whether feigned or sincere, included a tirade against the “elite media,” and implicit in his answer was the assertion that his family life is off limits. The South Carolina crowd seemingly agreed, cheering loudly in support of Gingrich’s tantrum.


Earlier this month, The Daily Beast published an article about another presidential hopeful’s spouse, Karen Santorum, and her relationship with an obstetrician and abortion provider long before she met her husband Rick. The article contrasts the Santorums’ unusually hardened views on contraception and abortion with Karen’s former life as the live-in girlfriend of a man nearly 40 years her senior:

The six-year-long May-December affair, which was always out in the open, began in 1982, when Garver was a 22-year-old nursing student at Duquesne University. Allen was then 63. He was well known for delivering babies and helping to start a “therapeutic abortion” clinic at Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh years before Roe v. Wade. As at most such clinics, sympathetic psychiatrists of the era attested to women’s fragile mental health as a way to skirt restrictions on the procedure. Rick Santorum has lampooned the notion that abortion statutes should contain exceptions in cases where women’s health is at risk.

These two stories are but a sampling of the intense scrutiny presidential candidates—and their spouses and ex-spouses—receive from the media during long campaign cycles that offer little real news. But aside from fleshing out the names and faces involved in campaigns, do they serve much purpose in helping voters decide who will govern best? Like the subjects themselves, the answer is complicated.

It would be easy to dismiss the revelations of the Gingrich affairs and Karen Santorum’s love life as meddling pieces of gossipy journalism that have no place in presidential politics, as Gingrich essentially declared at the debate. But after more consideration, one piece seems legitimate and the other just a bit bizarre.

In Gingrich’s case, the focus is on his actions and a pattern of his behavior with how he handles complex, painful, and emotionally jarring issues in his personal life, not on his wives. Voters may have concerns that Gingrich may not be adept at governing based on his actions in his personal life, and some may even rightly view him as a hypocrite, both for his moral crusading and for leading the impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton when Gingrich was having an affair of his own. While talking about marital failings in front of a national audience may be supremely uncomfortable for Gingrich, this pattern of behavior does seem relevant to the Gingrich’s ability to govern, as it demonstrates how he reacts to difficulties in his life.

The story of Karen Santorum is something else entirely. While many disagree with Rick and Karen Santorum’s views on issues of contraception and abortion, Karen is not running for president. In fact, she has been largely absent from the media spotlight during the last several months. I can’t comprehend how a story about Karen Santorum’s ex-boyfriend helps to inform voters about her husband’s ability to lead. Perhaps the author believes this reveals that Karen Santorum is a hypocrite, but even if that is true, she is not running for office and does not seem to have the same hold over her husband’s campaign that other spouses possess.

The private lives of presidential candidates should not be off limits, as there is often potential for great insight into a person’s character and clues to how he or she may lead if elected. But sometimes, exploring and writing about personal lives serves no purpose other than the telling of prurient or ultimately meaningless gossip. The key is determining if the information serves to inform voters about the candidate’s ability to lead. Only then is the story worthy of being labeled journalism, and worthy of voters’ time and consideration.


Amy Ho-Ohn | 1/25/2012 - 7:50am
@Joe K, I said this approach to this issue is unecessarily divisive. I certainly think Obama should be criticized for his multi-trillion dollar deficits, his kow-towing to foreign public opinion, his substitution of demagogy for fiscal policy and the ridiculous miasma of special-interest pandering he calls a health care reform act. 

Some issues are serious and some are distractions. The press likes distractions because distractions are easy to put on a screen: no numbers or graphs, just a lot of people screaming. Politicians' marital histories, religious practices, college transcripts, recreational activities, clothing style or lack thereof, and family backgrounds are distractions.

@beth, the suspicion is that Obama's transcript will turn up evidence that he was admitted to Columbia with an academic record that wouldn't have got a white guy into community college, then admitted to Harvard Law with a record that wouldn't have got a white guy into dogcatching school.
Anonymous | 1/24/2012 - 5:56pm
Amy Ho Ohn,
I agree that any criticism of President Obama is seen as unecessarily divisive, uncharitable and slightly indecent.  It is seen as motiveated by racist animus.

That must be the reason that the mainstream media is more comfortable attacking the GOP candidates.  So maybe it is NOT bias but actually cowardice.
Amy Ho-Ohn | 1/24/2012 - 4:04pm
The issue with Obama's transcripts is not whether he ever was at Columbia; it is an attempt to raise the affirmative action issue. The present president of Columbia, Lee Bollinger, was involved in the Supreme Court decision on the legality of affirmative action (Grutter vs. UM?)

I deem this approach to this issue unecessarily divisive, uncharitable and slightly indecent. It will insult a lot of people, and it will unavoidably give the appearance of being motivated by racist animus. But if Newt Gingrich is the nominee, he will not hesitate to pursue it.
Jim McCrea | 1/24/2012 - 3:46pm
I always thought that it has long been a cardinal rule of politics:  candidates have no privacy not subject to extreme public scrutiny.

In earlier years it was easier to hide things but, with the dawn of the internest and everyone's alleged right to know everything about anyone and any thing, there are no secrets.  Ever.
Beth Cioffoletti | 1/24/2012 - 2:31pm
You know, Walter, people are always sending me emails warning me of viruses and the like that will do terrible things.  I can google the information in the email and find out if it is legitimate or not.  It takes about 30 seconds. 

That's what I did with the information in your comment above - googled "obama columbia school records".  The first 2 entries were from snopes and fact check.  Try it!
C Walter Mattingly | 1/24/2012 - 6:29am
While I'm in basic agreement with Amy, personal morality of leaders in the US has and will continue to be an issue. (Even in laissez-faire France, a certain recent activity with a Haitian maid has severely cost a potential presidential candidate a possible presidency.) Yet of more significance to me is the more generally relevant career of the candidate. Romney's income tax records should be made public. The public has a right to know. That extends to the academic records of candidates, as a recent campaign evinces. Bush's opponents, including Mr. Kerry, caricatured him as being too dumb to be president. Bush himself made light of his mediocre academic record at Yale, and revealed his 77 Yale 4 year average. Meanwhile his opponent, Senator Kerry, echoed the Bush is too dumb motif, but refused to release his academic record to the electorate. Turns out, we now know why: his average at Yale was 76. By this measure, he was dumber than Bush. something he hid effectively from the electorate.

We will have a candidate in the upcoming campaign who, like Kerry, refuses to release his undergraduate record. His supporters scoff at the request, claiming he is hiding nothing, referring to the birth certificate issue, which to most of us is a non-issue, because he released the records and set it straight. He should likewise release his Columbia records.

Will he? If not, why not?  As long as Obama continues to hide his Columbia record from them, the public will quite reasonably assume there's something to hide there. The electorate has a right to know. Come clean, Mr President.
Anonymous | 1/23/2012 - 5:40pm

I agree.  Thanks to the mainstream press such as the NY Times and CNN.  Or was that the National Enquirer who helped save you from that guy?  On the other hand if you recall the NY Times and CNN sent an army to Alaska in 2008 to find dirt on Palin.
ed gleason | 1/23/2012 - 4:13pm
Tom Maher keeps reminding us Dems about John Edwards. N.B. John Edwards is not getting standing ovations/endorsements from any constituency.
david power | 1/23/2012 - 1:28pm
David ,

I'll take your Demos and I'll raise you two Aristos.  
Shayne LaBudda | 1/22/2012 - 9:04pm
Further, on a recent 2000 mile road trip, my wife and I noticed the prevalence of Fox News on the ubiquitous TVs in our public space now.  At every gas station that offered food service there was a TV, and in almost every case it was tuned to Fox.  Hardly an obscure news source.  I don't think the disparity in how Fox has handled these issues needs to be explained.  John Edwards, Barck Obama, et al, are routinely pilloried.  Gingrich was championed for his anger.
Shayne LaBudda | 1/22/2012 - 8:51pm
Is it lost on anyone that the nature of the Republicans under scrutiny is to practice "do as I say, not as I do"?  The lack of humility in their stridency is what sets them up for the takedown. 

Some of my political counters have made the observation that one of our much-loved senators, Russ Feingold, fell at the bottom of the personal wealth chart due to his alimonies.  This matters not to me since he was not beating the personal morality drum that Mssrs Gingrich and Santorum have and do.  In a word, hypocrisy is what leads them to this fair scrutiny.

Bill Clinton's dalliances were reported in the media, but they weren't amplified because it wasn't cast against a phony moral superiority. 
Marie Rehbein | 1/22/2012 - 7:51pm
"Perhaps the author believes this reveals that Karen Santorum is a hypocrite, but even if that is true, she is not running for office and does not seem to have the same hold over her husband’s campaign that other spouses possess."

Karen Santorum influences and is influenced by Rick Santorum even if she is not influencing his campaign.  In the unlikely event that he is elected president, we would be wondering whether their ultra-conservative judgmentalism would be something that they would attempt to inflict on us.

In a sense, if private lives were off-limits generally in our culture, it is possible that we would not have to worry about what judgments the Santorums might of us.  We would all be pitied for our apparent hypocricies.  In such a world, people would be judged on their public policies and not be expected to be role models.

Vince Killoran | 1/22/2012 - 5:03pm
As a purely factual issue I would challenge Joe's claim that "hardly anyone watches [CNN & MSNBC] anymore": please see "Year End Cable News Ratings: MSNBC, CNN Up In Primetime While Fox News Takes a Loss" (THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, Dec. 19, 2011) [].

Does anyone have statistics on ETWN and other Catholic networks?  I know they have a mostly conservative & dedicated audience but I've never seen any numbers.
J Cosgrove | 1/22/2012 - 4:43pm
''And J. R.Cosgrove will believe whatever he wants.''

Thanks for the put down.  I disagree and provide some examples, and then get insulted.
Jim McCrea | 1/22/2012 - 4:21pm
The lives in all of their aspects of those POTUS candidates who represent themselves as appealing to the "values voters" (meaning those holding very narrowly defined values) will automatically be worthy of indepth scrutiny.

I do find it odd that Newt's objection to the way he is being treated is an objection from someone who singularly led the impeachment charge against of Bill Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky. 

Newt (and Callista) had better be as squeaky clean as possible going forward.  "If you don't bear the cross, then you can't wear the crown" - as we sang in Boy Scout camp.
Anonymous | 1/22/2012 - 3:55pm
Tom Blackburn,

I agree that the mainstream media is lazy if not biased.  But Ed Gleason I disagree with you in that cable stations such as CNN and MSNBC are irrellevant given that hardly anyone watches these stations any more.  Quite frankly Newt needs to buy that sap on CNN a big present for starting the debate off with a question about his ex-wife.  He gave him a great big softball.

I think the personal life of candidates is fair game but this year its the economy stupid.  And I would put up Newt's record on the economy against BO's record any day!
Vince Killoran | 1/22/2012 - 3:50pm
It shouldn't matter but it does-that's fairly unique to American politics.

When Clinton ran in '92 the GOP strategist put the word out that they would focus on three themes: Bill couldn't control his zipper, his wife, or his appetite.
T BLACKBURN | 1/22/2012 - 2:10pm
And J. R.Cosgrove will believe whatever he wants. The liberal media conspiracy is a good avoidance mechanism for reality. And it is sometimes profitable. Well do I remember Ann Coulter's great tour of every living talk show to plug her book on how the media ignore conservatives.
J Cosgrove | 1/22/2012 - 12:15pm
''the failures of the mainstream press which is more lazy than liberal''

I don't think that anyone really believes that as this cartoon emphasizes:

We have recent examples of how they went after Herman Cain and the feeding frenzy on Sarah Palin is legendary.  Then in New York how poor blind governor Patterson got ''blind sided'' by the press because the national Democrats wanted Cuomo as governor so he can run for president in 2016.  The really bad thing the blind governor did was take tickets to go to a Yankee game which he couldn't see.

And as far as avoidance, does anyone think they vetted Obama.  Obama has a lot of dirty linen in his past, especially his support of slum lords who he helped finance and who in turn built and ran sub standard housing for his people.
JOSEPH CLEARY II | 1/22/2012 - 10:39am
It is pretty clear that Mitch Daniels chose not to run for POTUS in great part because of the media attention that it would have placed on his wife ( who left the family, remarried someone else and then reconciled and remarried Daniels about 10 to 15 years ago)

Who Rick Santorium's wife dated or lived with before they met is really not relevant to his campaign and frankly not our business. I don’t see myself voting for him nor in fact do I see him a credible candidate in a general election.

You can like him, not like him, hate him etc but I do take him and his wife at their word that they returned to observance of their Catholic faith only after they got married. 

ed gleason | 1/22/2012 - 12:29am
Newt pleased the audience by attacking the media for bring up the open marriage question. But the so called 'smartest guy' in the room forgot the old adage that you don't pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel. The new adage is don't pick a fight with cable people who have infinite bandwidth. 
T BLACKBURN | 1/21/2012 - 9:02pm
Tom Maher will believe whatever he wants to believe about the failures of the mainstream press which is more lazy than liberal. I hope everyone else will stick to the subject, which is when, if ever, the private lives of public figures may be invaded.
Amy Ho-Ohn | 1/21/2012 - 7:48pm
Personally, I don't care. If a candidate will restore fiscal integrity to the budget process, reform the entitlement system, support reasonable assistance for those whose need is desperate, and represent America proudly and America's interests vigorously abroad; then he can have ten wives, a male lover, a dog lover, an Internet porn addiction and a closet full of sex toys for all I care. Some of the most effective leaders in history have had atrocious private morals.

However, I happen to think Newt Gingrich would be a lousy President and I would never vote for him. Meanwhile Mitt Romney, who will be an excellent President, has an impeccable private life.
Tom Maher | 1/21/2012 - 7:08pm
Tom Blackburn (# 4)

Just to get you up to speed John Edwards in his 2008 campaign for Democratic party presidential nominee began a multi year affair with with one of his campaign staff members.  During the early campaign the staff member became pregnant and  had a child that Edwards fatherrf.  Edwards concealed this extensive affair from the public for months by using campaign funds.  He is currently being prosecuted for diverting campaign funds for personal support of the staff member he had an affir with and their child.  The point is that this was known to be happening during the campaign but the nain stream media paid no attention until well after the campaign was over and Edwards was charged with federal campaign crimes.  The main stream press showed dilegence in follow up this affair that was known to be going on during the early campaign.  Others candidates are treated very differently by the press such as Sarah Palin who was extensively investigated for affairs and politcal wrong doing which did not exists. .  
T BLACKBURN | 1/21/2012 - 5:26pm
I agree with this post, and I would hate to see it get sidetracked by the usual tu quoques and media bashing. Tom Maher (#2), the slow start to the Edwards trashing wasn't because of whose linen was being aired but who was doing the airing. The original source for the Edwards scandal came out a few months later with a truly astonishing sex triangle involving national security and prominent Republicans. That story got no legs. Was that because the original source was right about Edwards, wrong on the second story? Was it because the liberals didn't spend weeks demanding that attenton be paid, the way conservatives did about the Edwards story?

I don't know. Do you think you do, Tom?

Getting back to the pristine thinking of the original post, the Santorum story (which I hadn't seen and shall promptly forget) doesn't say much of anything about Santorum as a candidate or as a potential president. The Gingrich story, on the other hand, contradicts or at least casts new light, on a campaign based on a narrative that includes a heavy dose of repentence. It is part of his campaign. Someone who was close to Mr. Gingrich's earlier repentences offers at least some informed skepticism about the current one. Frankly, I have been unable to tell much difference between the way Mr. Gingrich went after Democrats then and the way he goes after reporters now. If he has been chastened, he does not, at least, seem to have mellowed.

The fact that Mr. Gingrich is now a member of the church that has sacramental forgiveness for repentent sinners may not be a direct cause of his campaign narrative or strategy, but it is convenient for Mr. Gingrich, and Mr. Gingrich has always believed in what was convenient for him. Consequently, the testimony of those who are formerly his nearest and dearest is not without news value.

Anne Chapman | 1/21/2012 - 3:09pm
In 1996, according to the Religion column in the Washington Post today, the Santorums faced a truly heartbreaking decision - induce pregnancy early and most likely cause the death of their unborn child or allow both mother and unborn child to die.  The child was born alive, but could not survive and they knew that this was the most likely outcome of inducing premature labor.  This sounds like a familiar case, does it not? I am wondering why those who believe that the hospital's decision in a similar case in Phoenix was morally wrong are not up in arms about a bishop failing to excommunicate the Santorums or to deny them communion?  Or will some split hairs, and say that the unborn baby's death was not ''intended'' even though the decision was made that had an extremely high probability of causing the unborn child to die. The mother in Phoenix did not want to cause her unborn child's death either, but at 11 weeks, the odds for survival were even tinier than in the case of 19 weeks.

 I am very sad that this story is in the news, as it is immensely personal and tragic and thought a while before posting. But the reactions to these tragedies seem to depend on who had to face the agonizing decision to induce labor and cause the death of an unborn child - poor people in Phoenix aroused a lot of condemnation and harsh judments by some, but the same decision by a conservative Catholic who aspires to be President is overlooked.  

Sadly, nothing is private or sacred when it comes to the lives of those who want to be President and all candidates know that.  Gingrich is up in arms about revelations that are little different than those that caused Cain to give up his campaign. But Cain is still married - he and his wife seem to have found a way to move forward in their marriage, whereas Gingrich simply moves on to new wives. Many can't help but wonder if Wuerl would have personally shepherded someone into the church with Gingrich's history had that person not been a rich and influential politician.  Many are furious with Romney because of his personal wealth, yet seem unconcerned about Newt's wealth, gained mostly through working with lobbyists, and his expensive tastes, such as buying necklaces for $1 million. There does seem to be a bit of a double standard operating in the outrage (or lack thereof) among conservatives in general and Catholic conservatives in particular.

The Santorums made a decision that was extremely painful and they lost their unborn son because of it, just as the woman in Phoenix lost her child.  Personally, I believe both decisions were morally correct - to save the life that could be saved instead of standing by and permitting two deaths, one of which could be saved.  However, the silence on the Santorum case is a bit deafening - are there two standards?  

Beth Cioffoletti | 1/24/2012 - 6:18pm
Just what is it that Obama is being criticized for?
Tom Maher | 1/21/2012 - 3:07pm
But this is not what the MSN crowd said when it came to Bill Clinton where the left insisted that we all "Move On" as per the ultra left organization's name.

The double standard on reporting personal lives of candidates by the media is  intesting and?? ?p?r?e?d?i?c?t?a?b?l?e???.???????  John Edwards was not s?c?r?u?t?i?n?i?z?e?d? ??????????????????????despite all kinds of noises that he was having an affair with his campaign staff and he was using campaign funds to cover up his affair. 

Tom Maher | 1/23/2012 - 10:22am
As this article states "These two stories are but a sampling of the intense scrutiny presidential candidates—and their spouses and ex-spouses—receive from the media during long campaign cycles that offer little real news." 

One might be tempted to ask: Why does such an "intense scrutiny" directed at a paticular candidate yield "little real news" about a candidate? 

The "intense scrutiny" premised in this article is accurate and contradicts the idea that the non-coverage of ceratin presidential candidates such as John Edwars affairs in 2008 is due to laziness.  The "intense scrutiny" that the media is very  capable of and does all the time does not lend itself the expalnation that the media is lazy in grossly not covering other prsdiential cadidates having affairs during a campaign. 

This discrpancy in effort shows ia deliberate and highly selective process due to the mainstream media active biases.  The mainstream medai are known active participants in a presidential campaign, actively promoting and protecting favored cadidateswhile attempting to smear and dispromote other canidadtes that it does not favor. 

The examples in this article are minor subsets of the many types of biased and false reporting by a politcally active media.  The manistream media is its own super pac in the presidential campaign.  It can not be assumed as this article does that the media's reporting is always politcally nuetral, fair and objective.  
ROBERT NUNZ MR | 1/21/2012 - 2:39pm
MSN poled viewers -77% said private lives mattered.
I think that's where,most people are at.
Jim McCrea | 1/26/2012 - 4:06pm
"Does anyone have statistics on ETWN and other Catholic networks?"

Who's counting?  Who cares?  Mother Angelic wattling on???   Raymond Arroyo and "Fr." Acton Institute spreading Republican political theory?